Posts Tagged ‘maps’

The Pastmapper project “Mapping 60 Years of Greenwich Village”, displays data from five federal censuses (1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940) onto a Google-based map.  While the Pastmapper website claims that the project “for West 9th Street features buildings, businesses, and neighborhood features through the years,” the only records transcribed by this class were census records and thus no information on businesses was transcribed.  The promise of this project is intriguing and the combination of information will allow for many research topics. Visual depiction of this information is an ideal format.  It would be great if this project eventually enables users to refine searches by every available census header, including building number, occupation, ancestry, etc.

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West 9th Street & Sixth Avenue

The 1930 Census Data from West 9th Street illustrates the great diversity of residents of Greenwich Village during that time.  Inhabitants were persons of all ages and education levels, from young Irish servants to New York-born male bankers age 50 and older.  From the occupation listing the researcher can see a high level of education with teachers, urologists, writers, editors, stenographers, designers, statisticians, and bookkeepers.  Artists and actors are also well represented, as one might expect from the neighborhood at that time.

As the Pastmapper website quotes from New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, West 9th Street boasted “an air of solid respectability, of tradition and culture.”  This respectability comes through in the predominantly white, Anglo Saxon demographic makeup of the neighborhood.  Even the servants were white.  The 1930s census records also revealed a mixture of people who lived in both boarding houses and upper class townhouses (upper class was inferred since several properties included people with the classification of “servant” under the relationship to the head of household).  It was striking by how many female heads of houses lived on the street in 1930, some of whom even owned their homes.  Yet, most women listed were single and lived with relatives.

1930 Census data for West 8th and West 9th Streets, Greenwich Village

1930 Census data for West 8th and West 9th Streets, Greenwich Village

From studying the decade of census records for this street, one could conclude there was a large population (approximately 43%) of first generation Americans whose parents emigrated mainly from Europe, especially Italy and Ireland. Many respondents not from the United States were servants, and those came primarily from Ireland.   It was also interesting to note that many families came from similar geographic areas, but since they had different last names it was not apparent if they had a family connection or if the families migrated together.  Additionally, though many respondents were born in the United States and had parents from the United States, many were not born in New York State and even fewer were second-generation New Yorkers.  Though a substantial number of respondents were born in New Jersey or Connecticut, many came from Midwestern states.  This is not surprising since even now New York City’s culture, industry and opportunities attract people from across the nation.

Once all data is viewable, it will be interesting to note how demographics (ancestry, residence type – home, boarding house, apartment, occupation, education, etc.) of the street changed with any trends or consistency.  Regarding education level, data as recorded on Pastmapper began to show a pattern in which children who grew up on this street were the only ones with educational backgrounds.  But that data is misleading and incomplete.  Closer examination of the actual census form reveals that education level records specifically whether respondents “Attended school or college any time since September 1, 1929.”  Many respondents, especially professionals, presumably attended school before that date.

When this Pastmapper project is finished, it would be interesting to include information from the last 2010 census to see how the neighborhood has changed over the past 70 years.

-Bonnie Gordon, Jackie Rider and Lynda Van Wart

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While still a work in progress, Pastmapper exploits the best aspect of digital history, its interactivity.  Because the platform was launched from San Francisco, most of its information now focuses on that city.  The Pastmapper Main Page states “Current available listings” as including 1852 San Francisco, 1960 Minneapolis, 1966 Boston, 1966 San Francisco, and 1967 Oakland but provides no links to any of those maps.

The 1853 San Francisco trial posted on the Pastmapper website uses transcribed information from the 1852 A.W. Morgan & Company’s San Francisco City Directory and takes the user to a San Francisco map with dozens of placemarkers.  Some placemarkers open photos and other images, other placemarkers do not.  Toggling between 1853 and 2012 Google maps of San Francisco creates an easy visual comparison.  When the user toggles between the two maps, streets and topographical features change, but data points remain the same, giving the user a unique view of how the city has evolved over the past century and a half.  Changes in the city’s land mass between 1853 and 2012 mirror other online geographic comparisons such as a recent one after Hurricane Sandy that contrasted an 18th-century map with a current one.


Researchers may appreciate the visual mapping of history and the clear color distinction between people and businesses.  The visual impact of information like this is easy to understand and is a great alternative to reading a listing or directory, a task which quickly becomes tedious and confusing.  Pastmapper enables users to switch between years to see how one specific section has changed over time.  Additionally, users can click on individual business types (15 in total) and gain an understanding of how many and where those business were located.  The Google map platform allows users to zoom in and out and move around, a great tool for street-level examination and quick navigation.

However, since only 35.6% of the 1852 directory was geotagged, Pastmapper is not yet ready for academic use.  Too much information is missing.  In addition, the business category “other” is not defined and offers no explanation why.  This website did not clearly define why some business types were classified together and others stood on their own.  While one can assume “dry goods, books, stationery and household items” were lumped together because a store may sell all four items, it is not clear who demarked the boundaries.  Was it the directory or the Pastmapper transcribers?  In addition, while the color coding distinctions were based on whether an entry was a “business” (blue) or “people” (green), it was not effective.   The “people” classification can be found in “boarding houses and hotels,” “saloons, restaurants, entertainment,”  “groceries and provisions, produce, butchers and bakeries” and others.  Moreover, business classifications that show green markers also show blue ones.  Therefore, the distinction between colors and business types becomes meaningless.

Finally, differences between the 1853 and 2011 maps are not readily apparent.  The difference is on the shoreline and not the information keyed in.  For example, Miss Bella Livingston is listed as living on Dupont Avenue, Miss Bella Livingston during both time periods.  Considering the 158 year difference, it is doubtful that this is the same person.

At the same time, the maps help users compare changes such as damage to businesses, homes, and cities in different natural disasters throughout a city’s history.  A business that may have stood near the water at an earlier point in time uses the same address but stands further offshore some 200 years later.

Overall, Pastmapper is a great tool but its usefulness for academic research will only be found once it amasses more information and classification of that information is clarified. Pastmapper contains a great deal of carefully entered metadata with few visuals.  Clicking on “Random Page” takes users to more metadata with links, none of which resulted in any images. Pastmapper has a lot of potential, but it also has a long way to go to engage online users.  It needs a more welcoming home or main page, visuals that draw in users and show them what Pastmapper has to offer if they set up an account, and simpler representations of metadata.  It also needs more information to make the trails more productive. Once it ingests more information, Pastmapper has the potential to organize that data and become a more effective research application.

-Bonnie Gordon, Jackie Rider and Lynda Van Wart

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It seems that everyone is interested in “mapping the past.” HistoryPin has been a huge favorite of my fellow Greenwich Village Historians; it has been written about numerous times for this blog (here, here, and here). Although HistoryPin is fascinating and cool, there are a couple other websites that focus on “mapping the past,” that may do as good of a job (or better) as HistoryPin.

The first of these is SepiaTown. Formed before HistoryPin in early 2010 (HistoryPin was launched in July 2011), SepiaTown allows institutions and individuals to upload historical images (30 years old or more) and map it. SepiaTown has a very simple interface, the homepage directly brings the user to the map, which displays a different random location every time the page is refreshed. Tiny thumbnails of each image appear at the pinned location, which the user can click. After the user clicks the image, the left hand sidebar displays the image larger, creates a permanent link to the photograph, sources the material, allows for a short description of the image, and provides a link to the uploader. The other interesting feature is that it allows the user to see the Google Maps Street View of the location, essentially letting the user see the location as it was “then” and how it looks now.

Unfortunately for SepiaTown, it has not advanced like HistoryPin. For one, SepiaTown does not have as many uploads as the other sites. The website appear to have not been updated in awhile, the blog was last updated in January 2012. It also seems to have stopped “policing” the website, on their Image Guidelines page, they list guidelines, many of which have been broken. When you click on the most recent uploads, you get portraits, interior shots, and images from within the last couple of years, all of which are against the guidelines of the website. Lastly, the map feature is useful, but nowhere near as advanced as the one on HistoryPin, which literally layers the current map and the historical photograph on top of each other, like that Chevorolet commercial that played non-stop during the Olympics. HistoryPin’s tool gives a better visual idea of what the place looked like when the historical image was taken. HistoryPin also provides more tools (like their tours and channels sections), unlike SepiaTown, that pretty much just provides a slideshow of the images uploaded by user/repository.

Unlike SepiaTown, I would argue that WhatWasThere gives HistoryPin a run for its money. What sets WhatWasThere apart is its map interface. It is stunning. Although all three use Google Maps, WhatWasThere uses the software and improves upon it. Instead of using Google’s default yellow lines that represent streets, these have been replaced with gray. Visually it is more appealing and more representative of streets. WhatWasThere also gives a better sense of how many images there are per location farther zoomed out, with HistoryPin, we only get there little pink pins sticking out of the top of the thumbnails. WhatWasThere also has a great sidebar that displays images, instead of the thumbnails of the images on the map itself. The sidebar changes as the user shifts the map, but constantly displays the descriptive information that you can use to find out more, both my clicking the pin on the map, and the image in the sidebar. Like HistoryPin, the fade feature is present, as is most of the same descriptive metadata.

HistoryPin, however, wins with its ability to click its tags and narrow down the images in the map. For instance, if you click the tag “cafes,” the images that are displayed are ones that are tagged “cafe.” WhatWasThere has tags, but they are not clickable. HistoryPin also allows for comments, making it more interactive and open to bringing others in to contribute their historical memory or other knowledge to the location. Unfortunately for WhatWasThere, its map is just as good, but does not have as many features to make it a better resource than HistoryPin.

HistoryPin, then, deserves to be the website that has gotten the lucky focus of our group of historians. SepiaTown can claim the title as the instigator of the trend, but HistoryPin took what was good about it and made it better. WhatWasThere has a great map feature, but has not developed past being a presentation device. HistoryPin is collaborative device and a great exhibition tool for a larger project.

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The Greenwich Village Digital Archive created in tandem with this blog features an impressive interactive map that links to individual objects in the archive. The map feature of our Omeka-run site enables us to visualize the objects in space, allowing for new understandings of their relations to Greenwich Village and each other to become apparent. That map is created in Google Maps, which provides extremely detailed GIS data and great functionality. But one detriment to Google Maps is the inability to easily edit the aesthetic of your digital map.

Map of Washington Square Park in green tones, designed in Mapbox by Aly DesRochers.

A new platform, Mapbox, has emerged as an alternative way to create “fast and beautiful” interactive digital maps for your online project. Mapbox makes designing and publishing maps possible for those of us who have a limited understanding of API and coding. Google Maps have an extremely distinctive and recognizable color scheme and style, which is beneficial for Google as a company that needs to promote a consistent brand. But the primary palette may not necessarily look good with the color schemes and designs that are very carefully and thoughtfully chosen for individual websites. Mapbox’s online software allows users to sign up for free accounts (or accounts with low monthly rates for additional capabilities) and design maps to match any web project that also have rich GIS data provided by OpenStreetMap.

Customizing map colors in the Mapbox interface.

From the Mapbox online interface, you can create maps with unique coloring and markers. First, you select the area that will be the starting point for your map by adjusting the location and zoom-level. You can also provide a name and description and turn on or off technical aspects of your map (such as, choosing whether viewers of your map will be able to zoom with the scroller on their mouse or trackpad). Next, you customize the layers and color palette for your map. For each layer (streets, areas, water, land) you use hue, saturation, and levels controllers to determine colors. Initially, these controllers can be hard to work with, since they are very sensitive and require some understanding of those attributes of color, but I found a helpful guide that lists a wide range of colors and their HSL (Hue, Saturation, Light) values. Finally, you add markers to the places you choose to highlight on your map. You can title each marker and include additional descriptive text, and customize their size, shape, and color. And once you’ve perfected your map, you can easily grab the embed code and add it to a webpage.

Though, as with any new software, it may take some time to get used to the Mapbox interface, the learning curve is not steep and Mapbox provides plenty of help in the form of documentation and a discussion board. As a free and open source service it is available to every institution and individual, allowing even small groups to create beautiful custom maps to enhance their online project.

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Greenwich Village is frequently pigeon-holed as a hotbed of counter-culture.  Writers, artists, wandering bohemians…the list of alternative folks who roamed the area is endless.

Bob Dylan. Photo courtesy of http://blurt-online.com/news/view/4953/.

Bob Dylan is even rumored to have hung out in a bar called the Kettle of Fish on Sixth Avenue and Waverly Place (that is far before it became a Green Bay Packer bar, read: the National Football League).   But before the Beatniks sung out their poetry slams to the rhythm of snapping fingertips, and before Green Bay Packer fans raged in the city streets after their Superbowl XLV victory, there was a little red schoolhouse.

This little red schoolhouse, however, emerged in the likeness of the God that is Greenwich Village radicalism.  It was founded in 1922 as a New York City Public school and was aptly named The Little Red School House.  It was, and still is, at 196 Bleeker Street, right on the corner of Bleeker and Sixth Avenue.

The WPA Guide to New York City, second edition, 1982, p. 127.

In the 1920’s this “experimental school for children”[1] emphasized progressive “experiential” learning and had flexible schedules.   The school was limited to first graders only (unlike traditional little red school houses, where often grades kindergarten through twelve were mixed).   Advocates raved about the benefits of tailoring their child’s education to his or her “spontaneous interests.”[2]  In short, advocates were enamored by the school’s non-traditional methods, and many parents stridently supported the type of education their children were receiving.

But those were the advocates.

In his book A Small Wonder historian Johnathan Zimmerman quotes a seething Italian mother who scorned the school’s methods: “We send our children to school for what we cannot give them ourselves, grammar and drill.  We do not send our children to school for group activity; they get plenty of that in the street.”   She goes on to note that only “Fifth Avenue” families thought this method of schooling was a good idea.[3] Equating the school’s progressive style to the city streets probably quite accurately describes the atmosphere of the Village during this time.   The streets of the Village were probably anything but traditional.  Also, this Italian mother’s diatribe also points to the class conflict in the area.  She clearly differentiates herself (clearly a more traditional woman) from the Fifth Avenue crowd who was, according to this woman’s standards, very liberal.

The Fifth Avenue crowd was also becoming very rich.

The WPA Guide to New York City notes that during various influxes of immigrants, the wealthier families continued to move uptown “along Broadway, Fifth Avenue, and other great arteries.”[4]  Simultaneously, the Irish and black populations from lower Manhattan continued to shift their communities North.

5th Avenue looking North, published in the Chicago Daily Tribune, 24 June 1924. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Eventually the Italians followed in the 1920s, and this particular mélange of ethnicities fully occupied this section of the Village – a section that the 1939 WPA Guide calls “backwater.”[5]  This outraged Italian mother represents the counter-counter-culture that also existed (and probably still does) in the Village.  Not everyone in the Village was an American seeking alternative styles of living; some residents were immigrants who were looking for a compulsory, traditional lifestyle for their children so that they could be properly inculcated by mainstream America.

The school was eventually eliminated from the public school system by the Board of Education around 1932.  It was closed because students were not performing up to the standards of the state.   However, some well-to-do supporters (perhaps that same family on Fifth Avenue who was scorned by the Italian mom) paid to keep the school alive as a private institution.

The Little Red School House is still in tact, and it is still a school today.  It is now called by a truncated acronym (LREI), which is supposed to stand for The Little Red School House and Elizabeth Irwin High School.   The school still prides itself on its alternative style of teaching.  Students are enrolled for fourteen years of pre-college learning instead of the traditional twelve.  Its website boasts that one minute an observer may hear a high school class debating a piece of Congressional legislation, and the next minute he or she may catch a glimpse of students flinging objects across the courtyard using the medieval-esque catapults they designed.[6] This is hugely divergent from the strict and compulsory Common Core Standards implemented by the Department of Education this year, which does not necessarily support the idea of a student following his or her “spontaneous interest.” It demands that all students must learn the same exact content at the same exact time. This standard is undoubtedly followed by all of the New York City public schools in Greenwich Village.  The Italian mother of the Little Red School House past probably would have ardently upheld this new standard. However, the fact that LREI exists today shows that The Village may always be a place of radicalism and progressivism. While this may be true, historians and residents alike must also recognize that there will always be exceptions that undermine this notion.

And so, in brief conclusion: sometimes history is exciting because one learns how much the world has changed, but sometimes one learns that the world has not.   The Village was and continues to be a culturally contested section of Manhattan because it embodies so many contradictory ideas and lifestyles.

[1] The WPA Guide to New York City. ed. Lou Gody, Chest D. Harvey, James Reed.  Second Edition. New York: Pantheon Press, 1982, pp. 137.

Zimmerman, Johnathan. Small Wonder. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, pp. 112.

[3] Zimmerman 112.

[4] The WPA Guide to New York City 126.

[5] The WPA Guide to New York City 126.

[6] LREI. http://www.lrei.org/program/academics/departments. Accessed 6 October 2011.

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How To Make the Map of your Dreams

In preparation for our map building assignment, I went directly to the source: Google. Google’s map user guide contains everything you need to know about how to properly utilize all of Google Maps’ features, and the information doesn’t fly past you at hyper-speed the way it does in an instructional video. The site offers the fundamental information you need to start a map and add and delete items, but it also offers a lot more. Using the navigation tool on the left side of the screen, you can see how to sort your items and even how to calibrate your map with others. I was surprised to see that Google even has a ‘Maps Support Blog’ (also available on the left side of the screen), so even if the answer to your question isn’t listed in the user guide, try posting it to the blog and see if you get some good feedback. This site should be your go-to source for any issues you might face while creating your map.

Visit Getting Started With My Maps: http://maps.google.com/support/bin/static.py?page=guide.cs&guide=21670&topic=21676&answer=144347


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